The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: How to Dress a Fish by Abigail Chabitnoy

AS FAR AS RECORDS GO

I.
The women in this story never had a chance, did they Michael?
It’s sons we tell stories for.
Their skins and grasses and birch
bark rarely survive
the archaeological record.
I found your sister in another record,
in a family archive as it were
of dubious descent—

82 iii. Nikifor (1897–1897)
Occupation: Infant

A grave shaped hole.
Possibly, an empty house.
(a painted box
sealed tight against
the weather: )

II.
Woman are always talking about the weather—
“Our people have made it through lots of storms and disasters
for thousands of years. All the troubles since the [promyshlenniki] . . .
like one long stretch of bad weather . . . like
everything . . . this storm will pass over some day.”
(On the island without trees, with wind no man
could walk against, it rains two hundred and fifty days of the year.)

III.
Across the sea certain women were believed
to have power over the weather:
when weather was inclement, the women were exposed
naked to the elements until weather changed—
or they died.
(But I read this in some academic work or coffee table book
on Aleut or Unangan art, so there might be a connection besides

Church records show—

IV.
Then there was Lillian Zellers—
What kind of woman married an Indian
in those days?

(It was in the papers:) INDIAN MARRIES WHITE GIRL
ALASKAN GRADUATE OF CALISLE MAKES
LEBANON YOUNG WOMAN HIS BRIDE.

I imagine someone in her family was tall—
there’s no accounting for our height if she were not tall.
Or am I mistaking mothers again?

Even this is your story, Michael. There was no bearing daughters.

I suppose there must be somebody alive
somebody would know—

but letters are an accreted loss
like skins and bark and mothers
appeal to me as mystery.

V.
There was no bearing daughters. Turns out
my black-haired grandma was no Indian
after all. Not Aleut.

I never met the men
who gave me their bones.

VI.
My mother was a Mole. (Names have been changed
but records are rare
-ly consistent—
enough blood to trace,
enough bodies in marked graves to remember,
enough, enough.)

And now I’ve gone and changed my name for legal reasons
letting down my sons and daughters.
(My husband would not have let them be salmon-fishers
anyways.)

VII.
No, the women in this story never had a chance, Nikifor.
It’s fathers we make bodies for.

This selection comes from the book, How to Dress a Fish, available from Wesleyan University Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Natalie Giarratano.

Abigail Chabitnoy earned her MFA in poetry at Colorado State University and was a 2016 Peripheral Poets fellow and 2020 Kenyon Writers Workshop Peter Taylor Fellow. She has been a resident of Caldera and the Wrangell Arts Center, and her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast, LitHub, and Red Ink, among others. She is a Koniag descendant and member of the Tangirnaq Native Village in Kodiak, Alaska, was raised in Pennsylvania, and is currently a consultant for a company in CO that works to facilitate tribal self-determination. Her debut poetry collection, How to Dress a Fish, was released from Wesleyan University Press. Visit her website at salmonfisherpoet.com for more information. Twitter Handle: @achabitnoy

Natalie Giarratano is the author of Big Thicket Blues (Sundress Publications, 2017) and Leaving Clean, winner of the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Prize in Poetry (Briery Creek Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in Beltway PoetryTupelo Quarterly, Tinderbox, and American Literary Review, among others. She edits and lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her partner and daughter and is the city’s poet laureate. 

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